Last month, Ben Clemente, a Bronxite who has had a passion for art since the age of 7, showcased his art for the first time at the Boricua College in the Bronx.
Years and years worth of art were presented at this special debut — dozens of bright and colorful paintings, some of which were decades old, and others that were brand new — were all presented to show a timeline of Clemente’s changes as an artist, both creatively and personally.
“It was a wonderful experience,” Clemente said in an interview with the Bronx Times. “Had I known it would’ve been that enriching of an experience I probably would’ve tried to do it a lot sooner.”
Clemente explained that he had been passionate about painting ever since he was a young child, but only started using oils on canvas at the age of 16. Like many fellow painters, he felt inspired by renaissance artists like Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci. However, he realized over time that he felt more connected to expressionist and impressionist artists such as Henri Matisse and Vincent Van Gogh.
“I love their use of colors, they just explode,” he said.
Clemente’s art has grown into more than just passion, it has become his outlet throughout all of his past hardships.
“I went into the military when I was a young 18-year-old man. I went into Vietnam during the 60s, a very turbulent period, and when I came out it was what they call the psychedelic movement,” he said. “Free love and very free associations and a lot of color, and that kind of influenced my art through the years.”
He explained that upon leaving the military, he entered a multi-dimensional period of his life — he worked many jobs and explored many fields and careers, seeking joy and passion in every phase, all the while expressing his daily emotions and feelings to the canvas. However, the military also provided obstacles during his life.
Clemente said during his time in Vietnam he was exposed to Agent Orange — a tactical herbicide used by the U.S. military for control of vegetation — and has been diagnosed with lung cancer and a heart condition as a result.
“I’ve had a lot of medical issues,” he said. “So I’ve been home and haven’t done as many things as I’d like to in my retirement.”
But this hasn’t stopped Clemente from continuing his art — if anything, his challenges made him only more passionate. In fact, during his recovery process, he has discovered a new side of his artistic self.
“My artwork has evolved to the point where I’m more expressive now,” he explained. “I’ve been using color to make a statement about the way I feel inside … it’s more of a feeling situation for me, it’s not so much ‘Oh I’m going to do a landscape’ or ‘I’m going to paint somebody’ … it’s just ‘Let me see what color is going to express what I feel today.’”
Not all of Clemente’s work is vibrant and radiant, in fact, a huge factor of his continued motivation throughout these past challenging years has been a black and white painting.
“I said ‘I am going to make a painting and I’m going to dedicate it to Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, because it’s black and white,’” he said. “I started this painting with the proposition and the thought that I am going to make sure that I present it to them as a token of how much this country has grown.”
He further explained that this painting has been key in helping him through his medical issues and other struggles he’s been through these past few years.
“I’m missing one little part of it and it’s the one thing that has kept me going throughout my hardships, the surgeries, COVID: finishing this painting,” he said.
Clemente’s exhibit at the Boricua College is open to the public until September said he looks forward to having more conversations with visitors about the stories behind his art and to seeing how more people react to his pieces.
“As an artist, this is what we hope for: that our painting will be affecting,” he said. “That a person can relate to the experience and connect with the art.”
For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes